Transitional Characters in Television

An excerpt from the colloquium presented on February 29, 2008 by Jeffrey Bussolini, College of Staten Island, CUNY

“Here we can consider three pivotal characters in
science fiction or fantasy television whose story line
centers around a profound transition of states that
changes their identity and leads to an ongoing process of discovering
and working out their new lives. These three are Anya from
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who transitions from vengeance demon (who had tortured men
at the desire of wronged women for a thousand years) to human; Seven of Nine from Star
Trek: Voyager, who is de-assimilated from the Borg collective (with its machine-intensive,
hive-linked mind social network) and suddenly confronted by the challenge of individual
human existence; and Ambassador Delenn from Babylon Five, who undergoes a transformation
in a chrysalis to become a Minbari-Human hybrid in order to further her diplomatic
mission of amity between these two peoples.
All three of these characters portray the challenges and benefits of profound
changes in life such as migration and transgender transition. Each of them is faced with
difficulties in adjusting to her body and to a new social setting. Via sources such as
Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (“not being at home is the primordial phenomenon”),
Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Liberation, and Sandy Stone’s The Empire Strikes Back: a posttransexual
manifesto, these characters can be examined for the ontological implications
of the transitions they undergo—in terms both of personal adjustment to new material
embodiment and of social-interactional differences related to their new identities. According
to Heidegger, Da-sein (being-there, his special relation construction for human
or (un)conscious being) is most fundamentally described as “not being at home,” due
to its ongoing movement and change in relational surroundings. In addition to being
a powerful refusal of nationalism, as it undercuts natural claims to lands (planets) and
identities, this way of analyzing transitional characters pays heed to how they play up
the continuity merged with profound change that is constitutive of the life of all mortal
beings. As such, even though all three bear a mark of difference due to their transition,
these characters are some of the most ‘human’ on their respective shows. This is thanks
in large part to their ongoing reflections about their own identities and engaged observations
of social interaction and social ritual around them.”